God is Disappointed in You, by Mark Russell and Shannon Wheeler / ****

may131278-_sx360_ql80_ttd_Whatever you might think of it, and despite it being one of the most influential books ever written (and how many people name it as their “favorite book”), you would be hard pressed to argue that the Bible remains one of the least read “important” books ever written. That’s not to say that people don’t study it, or dig into certain passages or sections – but the idea of actually studying the text, of reading the book from cover to cover, rarely seems to happen. And that’s understandable, given how often the Bible reflects its ancient roots, diving into the intricacies of scriptural doctrine, long family histories, historical records, and more.

All of which makes God Is Disappointed in You such an interesting idea. What author Mark Russell (along with contributions from cartoonist Shannon Wheeler) has done is retell the Bible, reducing each book to a few pages and summarizing it as though it were a story (or, in the case of Psalms, a greatest hits album; meanwhile, Hebrews becomes an FAQ about doctrinal changes). Moreover, he does so with a sharp sense of humor, telling the stories with a flair for the comic, up to and including a bit more profanity than you might expect from a telling of the Bible (where, honestly, you would assume a level of pretty close to “zero”).

The outcome is undoubtedly “irreverent,” but never to the level of “blasphemous” or “disrespectful”. What makes God Is Disappointed in You so interesting is the fact that Russell treats the Bible with admiration and respect; his humor comes from his dialogue, his phrasing, and the text itself, not from assuming a mocking tone towards the text itself. Rather, he conveys the anger and frustration that God and/or the prophets so often feel, turning the book into the history of a people loved by a God that they cannot remain faithful to. It’s equal parts comical and profound, allowing Russell to grapple with the major questions and ideas of the book while removing the sidebars and extra details.

The result, no doubt, will still offend purists, and those who feel, to quote a bumper sticker I once saw, that “if it ain’t King James, it ain’t the Bible.” But that’s a shame, because God is Disappointed in You is more respectful, thoughtful, and heartfelt than you might expect from the summary I’m giving you. Yes, it’s done with humor; yes, it has some profanity in there. And yet, it’s also a faithful recapping of every single book in the Bible, conveying the stories, the lessons, the parables, and the meanings, all in a modern dialogue and with a sense of fun. That’s an admirable goal. And if God Is Disappointed in You doesn’t always seem to know what it’s trying to do – if it can’t always strike that balance between humor, religion, and seriousness – that’s okay. (Same goes for Wheeler’s drawings, which are fun but feel like they’re thrown into the book without much purpose.) It’s a pretty daunting task that Russell has taken on, and the fact that it works as well as it does – and might lead to people actually reading this “most influential” book – makes it a worthwhile endeavor.

The fact that it’s pretty entertaining and enjoyable? Even better, and the main reason I recommend it.

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